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Importance of Hand Hygiene in Healthcare: Handwashing Awareness Week

In the past 18 months, perhaps no advice to prevent the spread of COVID-19 has been more widely promoted and easier to implement than the act of handwashing. The powerful efficacy of this simple technique has been reported in medical annals dating back to the mid-1800s from healthcare pioneers including Joseph Lister, Ignaz Semmelweis, Oliver Wendell Holmes, and Florence Nightingale.

For 21st century patients with a rare disease, handwashing is a more vital tool than ever before for preventing a variety of viruses and cases of flu that complicate their path to good health. To help circulate the message, and not the germs, we share the importance of this year’s National Handwashing Awareness Week for the rare disease community:

  1. Handwashing to reduce the chance of contracting COVID-19 is a priority for patients with a rare disease, who may experience more severe complications of the virus due to several factors. Many are treated with corticosteroids, which suppress the immune system and put them at higher risk of infection from common bacterial, viral and fungal microorganisms. Pre-existing conditions that make people more susceptible to COVID-19 and its complications are frequently seen in rare disease patients, including cardiomyopathy in Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) patients; chronic lung disease in those with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA); respiratory and cardiac dysfunction in mucopolysaccharidosis (MPS) patients. For patients with hereditary angioedema (HAE), the most often reported triggers for acute swelling attacks are infections such as viral illnesses, colds, and flu. Perhaps most notable are the still unknown effects of COVID-19 on people with rare diseases, adding urgency to taking every preventive measure possible to reduce the risk of contracting the infection.
  2. Handwashing has been shown to reduce diarrhea-related sicknesses in the general population by 23% and 58% for people with weakened immune systems. For people with an inherited rare disease that affects the immune system, this can be lifesaving. For instance, one of the most common waterborne diseases in the U.S., cryptosporidiosis, is caused by a parasite that enters the body because of poor handwashing hygiene or contaminated food and water. While most people with healthy immune systems will recover without treatment, those with compromised immune systems are at higher risk for developing a potentially life-threatening illness as a result.
  3. Proper handwashing can also prevent more than 20% of respiratory infections, such as colds and flu. The flu can be deadly to those who are very young, very old, immunocompromised, particularly children with neurologic conditions who may have trouble with muscle function, lung function, or difficulty coughing, swallowing, or clearing fluids from their airways. RSV infections, also common in children under two, are more severe in those with weakened immune systems, causing breathing problems, pneumonia, and bronchiolitis.
  4. Handwashing helps battle the rise in antibiotic resistance. Preventing illnesses for which antibiotics are common and often unnecessarily prescribed, leading to the growing worldwide problem of antibiotic resistance, is an enormous benefit that can be realized with regular handwashing.
  5. Handwashing is considered a critical hygienic practice for physicians and patients, complete with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines on the optimal technique. Follow the science with these five steps:

    – Wet your hands with clean, running, warm, or cold water, turn off the tap, and apply plain soap.

    – Lather your hands by rubbing them together with the soap. Lather the backs of your hands, between your fingers, and under your nails to ensure you lift dirt, grease, and microbes on the skin.

    – Scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds – try two rounds of “Happy Birthday” for timing purposes.

    – Rinse your hands well under clean, running water.

    – Dry your hands using a clean towel or air dry them. Germs can be more easily transferred from wet hands.

At Orsini Specialty Pharmacy, we encourage all to roll up their sleeves and participate in National Handwashing Week and keep emphasizing the importance of this low-tech, highly effective technique all year long. Learn more about our essential services for rare disease therapies and our dedicated support for physicians, manufacturers, payors, and patients.

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